On behalf of the non-Appalachian Voices, we share deep concerns about the negative potential impacts that large-scale gold mining would bring to Virginia’s water resources and to the communities near and downstream of mining locations.
Virginia’s lack of a comprehensive regulatory framework and insufficient bonding requirements lay a dangerous foundation for an industrial, extractive industry to put public health and drinking water at risk. Of chief concern is the potential health and environmental hazards posed by waste material processing.
Likely sites for new large-scale gold mines would be in close proximity to the James River and its watershed, which provides drinking water for 2.7 million people, brings millions of dollars into Virginia’s economy from commercial fishing, and attracts over 6 million visitors annually. Industrial metals mining, including gold mining, is notorious for polluting water resources. Accordingly, this industry would be a significant threat to the millions of Virginians that rely on the James River and its watershed, and those who live near or downstream of these potential mining sites.
The James River watershed spans 10,000 square miles, is critical to the people, species and ecosystems of Virginia, and serves as the largest tributary to the Chesapeake Bay. A primary concern is that modern gold mining uses cyanide in its metal processing, and both local communities and those downstream could be affected should tailings dams or mining waste depositories fail. An additional concern is groundwater withdrawal and the harmful burden that mining could place on private drinking wells.
Buckingham County, where a metal mining prospecting company has begun exploring for gold and other metals, serves as an example of how ill-suited the Commonwealth is for this large-scale industry. In that county, exploratory drilling has been conducted without the knowledge and consent of nearby residents or county officials. The mining company pulled water from Sycamore Creek, a tributary to the James River, without sufficient oversight. Local residents are deeply opposed to a potential large-scale mine and the impacts it can have on their groundwater supply, environment, and health.
The scope of potential impact from this industry is not limited to one locality, and large-scale gold mining operations could endanger and disproportionately burden many communities along and downstream of the Gold-Pyrite Belt. The Belt intersects with innumerable Environmental Justice communities often overburdened with existing pollution, and populations that are rural and low-income.
If there is an opportunity for the SAC to provide recommendations, we suggest the Committee recommend that large-scale gold mining be prohibited in Virginia. Should you provide suggestions for regulations, we ask that you recommend a prohibition on the use of cyanide and dewatering, which would threaten communities’ groundwater. Thank you for your consideration of our comments.
Jessica Sims, Virginia Field Coordinator, Appalachian Voices
Toxic Release Inventory National Analysis 2019: Comparing Industry Sectors, Environmental Protection Agency (January 2001). https://www.epa.gov/sites/ production/files/2021-01/documents/section_4._industry_sectors.pdf
“Virginia Map,” Mapping for Environmental Justice, https://mappingforej.berkeley.edu/virginia.
Virginia Environmental Justice Act. https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacodefull/title2.2/chapter2/article12.